It’s rather akin to the type of deception and slowing of time made hilariously famous in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the parking garage workers roar through the streets of Chicago in a blazing red Ferrari.
What effect can the same passage of time have on an individual? The common cliche is that to an Olympic sprinter a hundredth of a second is everything but to a child dancing in the autumn leaves it is absolutely meaningless. The concept of time, a trinity with speed and distance, is often thought of in mechanical units. Yet, this trinity also has an emotive quality as well.
650 BCE - Use of water clocks in Assyria
I had the distinct impression that time had entered our lives and gotten away with murder. This was three weeks back, when visiting three of my closest PCV friends in The Gambia. We looked as if we had been dragged along as Time played a game knowing full well the conditions for victory. This knowledge was of course to our eyes, buried in the sand.
321 CE - Constantine’s calendar uses 7-day week
There was a moment when the three of us were all quietly sitting together, lost in our own thoughts,that this impression was most vivid. I scanned the room and was met by faces that all looked tired, weathered, and aged more than the 14 months that we have known each other and The Gambia would otherwise suggest. It’s as if the weight of this direction in life had brought exhausting extremes of joy, failure, kindness, loneliness, and experience.
When I returned home I looked at a photo album containing pictures from the last few years of my life. I closed the album and looked in the mirror. The change was undeniable.
1202 CE - Mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci introduces Arabic numerals to Italy
If I let myself indulge in a pleasant fantasy, I would find myself studying the standardization of time in the Western sense and how it shaped our thinking of the world around us.
Cross cultural realizations; Americans perceive speed, as controlled by our own actions (Cars, Internet, Microwave ovens, Satellites), from a historical framework that has been growing for centuries. Sail ships, the pony express, steam engines, railroads, telegraph, automobiles, aircraft, electronic communication, the list is endless and increasingly moving towards speeds that can only be comprehended by the average person as abstract concepts. Microseconds not miles.
In the particular case of cars we live in a society that was eased into moving and controlling the high speeds that they provide. First eased in under the simple thought of excessive speed with steam ships and railroads and then to the autonomy of the motor vehicle.
1858 CE - First transatlantic telegraph cable
I still am not sure what the sequence of events that introduced automobiles to The Gambia was, but it seems a bit of a precarious position to force such a massive change on a society without proper preparation or education. It feels like it all happened at once, no slow historical precedent or socialization. It’s possible the general public has only been exposed to motor vehicles for the past 40 years. In terms of how one might contemplate the relationship of time, speed, and distance, the sudden availability of broken down boxes of Steel and Speed is rather like giving a four year old a old unreliable bike that has no training wheels and expecting him to ride it like a Tour champion. Impossibly high learning curve as cultures clash.
1961 CE - Soviet cosmonaut orbits the Earth
What are some observations on the result of this sudden jolt of speed?
Safety, many vehicles lack working speedometers and I fear the drivers rely solely on intuition to gauge their “safe” speed.
Appropriate warning, it is common to hear a passenger request, “Drive give me here” (Stop! I want to get out now) about two seconds from when the car would otherwise have passed the desired intersection. The driver has to slam hard on the brakes, dealing with an angry passenger yelling at him (female drivers are a rarity) for missing their stop. Brake lights tend to be broken on many vehicles...
Faster = has the right of way, pedestrians, donkey carts, bicyclists, older people with canes, all are supposed to yield to a person in a car. Why? The faster you go the more right of way you get. I’ve seen this cultural norm push old women into ankle deep muddy trash water*, boys on bicycles with no brakes run into each other and crash, and cars pulling risky two lane passing maneuvers on streets crowded with people going home form a football match. Sound familiar? As I last recall aggressive and foolish SUV drivers were experts in these arts.
* This term was coined one lazy Sunday afternoon in college when my roommate Matt Meyer and I were in our back yard setting up a Whiffle Ball field. It had rained hard the night before filling up anything skyward pointing concave object to gather liters of water. We weren’t paying careful attention to our surroundings and knocked over an entire trash can which contained a number of old pizza boxes, beer bottles, moldy notebooks, Campbell’s Soup cans, and a whole load of rain water. What crashed, spilled, and flowed out of the trash can went all over our legs and shoes and was distinctly foul. After that second pause to accept the reality of the situation I yelled out in anger/frustration/laughter, “Damn it, trash water!?” Matt started laughing hysterically at me, himself, and the situation and it stuck ever since...